There’s no question that a little additional attention to your smile and oral hygiene can pay off.
Bad breath is usually caused by:
- poor oral care habits
- tooth infection
- gum disease
- mouth sores
- infection or chronic inflammation of the nose or throat
- dry mouth, which may be a side effect of some medications
- certain foods, like garlic or onion
The best ways to combat bad breath is to stay hydrated, floss daily, and brush your teeth twice per day. Don’t forget to brush your tongue, too!
If you wear dentures or other mouth appliances, clean them daily. Use an alcohol-free mouthwash and artificial saliva or a spray or gel for dry mouth.
If your breath suddenly takes on an unpleasant or unusual odor, it may be a sign of a serious disorder, such as diabetes or a bowel obstruction. If this occurs, you should seek medical attention immediately. Chronic dry mouth that’s unrelated to medication use should also be investigated because it may indicate an autoimmune condition or other disorder.
Proper brushing and flossing will keep your gums healthy. Periodontal, or gum, disease is an infection of the tissues that surround and support your teeth. This type of infection is caused by a buildup of plaque, which is a sticky film of bacteria that forms on your teeth.
Gum disease is often painless, but it makes gums red and puffy and causes them to recede and bleed. The infection can progress over time leading to more serious symptoms. In fact, gum disease is a major cause of tooth loss in adults.
The good news is that gum disease is almost always preventable. Regular check-ups with your dentist combined with good oral hygiene, which means brushing and flossing twice daily, can keep plaque at bay.
Many over-the-counter (OTC) toothpastes, mouth rinses, and chewing gums claim to have a whitening effect. You can also speak with your dentist about prescription whitening treatments or in-office treatments.
Proper Dental Hygiene
The easiest thing to try at home is simply following proper dental hygiene. That means using fluoride toothpaste and flossing every day. Many people can also benefit from mouth rinses.
You may be interested in trying a whitening toothpaste. Whitening toothpastes contain mild abrasives that can help remove stains. However, whitening toothpastes cannot change the color of your teeth because they only remove stains on the surface.
Dentin is the bony tissue forming the bulk of the tooth under the enamel. The thickness of the enamel layer changes throughout our lives and gets thinner as we age. The thinner the enamel, the more yellow your teeth appear as the dentin layer dominates the final shade.
If your dentin has a yellowish tint, you’ll need to use a peroxide-bleaching agent to lighten the coloring. This, in turn, can help make your teeth appear whiter.
Some bleaching agents are available over the counter, such as paint-on whiteners or whitening strips. These are relatively cheap and effective. Be sure to look for a product that is at least 6 percent bleaching agent.
OTC treatments may not be effective if you have:
- isolated stains, such as a single discolored tooth
- dark stains
- dental implants or other restorations
You should consult a dentist to discuss your options. Dentists can prescribe bleaching kits for home use, or they can bleach your teeth in the office. This typically involves applying a bleaching agent to your teeth and then using a special light or laser to enhance the effect of the whitening agent.
The jury is still out on the safety of the bleaching process and whether the bleaching agent might be toxic if ingested. Long-term use of bleaches or abrasive toothpastes can increase sensitivity or gum irritation. If your teeth are sensitive to hot or cold, you may want to avoid whitening agents.
Bleaching During Pregnancy
While both home and prescription products can be considered safe at this time, you should not have a bleaching procedure during pregnancy. The American Pregnancy Association (APA) recommends postponing all unnecessary dental work, including whitening procedures, until after birth to prevent exposing the fetus to potentially dangerous chemicals or medications.
Straightening crooked teeth can also have an effect on your smile. Some adults are candidates for Invisalign, which uses transparent trays, or aligners, to straighten the teeth.
If you have bite problems or more complex orthodontic issues, you may need traditional braces. Brackets made of tooth-colored ceramic or polycarbonate are less noticeable than stainless steel brackets. Sometimes, the brackets can be mounted on the back surface of the teeth.
A missing, chipped, or stained tooth can be replaced with a crown or dental implant, which is an artificial tooth permanently anchored into the bone of the jaw. Porcelain veneers are pricey, but they can transform your smile after just a couple of visits to your dentist. See a cosmetic dentist to discuss your options.
If you’re interested in improving your smile, speak with your dentist. They can recommend treatments you may want to try. Your dentist can also help you understand what’s covered if you have insurance.